Curious Whether A Cloth Face Mask Is a Good Enough Barrier Against COVID-19

August 11, 2020 | Answered by: Dr Sri Viknarajan

Greetings, Doctor! I have been trying to get a hold of the masks suggested by the health authorities. However, it is so difficult to obtain it. It is always out of stock whenever I visit the pharmacy. I would still like to protect myself when in public.Hence, can I make my own face mask from clothes? I have seen people wearing them when I go to the supermarket. I just need to be certain that it is good enough to help prevent myself from getting the virus infection. Thank you in advance.
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Greetings! Thank you for your interesting question. The best face mask is still the 3-ply surgical mask. However, due to the issue of understock, if you do not have any symptoms or are not dealing with any positive COVID-19 patients, you are allowed to use a cloth face mask. This is not mandatory. We would like to prioritise these face mask supplies to hospitals where the healthcare workers need it more. There are different types of face masks. I will explain more in this article.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, people appear like 'ninjas' wearing masks of various shapes and patterns. The objective is not to become a superhero but to prevent the COVID-19 virus. This situation also indirectly makes the shop and the face mask factory a major focus. Undoubtedly, there are some taking advantage and creating their own unregulated masks. This phenomenon makes many wonder if variations of the face masks sold can be used as protection devices from COVID-19.

Let's get to know some of the types of face masks that people often wear. In general, there are three types of face masks - fabric face mask, surgical mask and N95 face mask.

  • Fabric masks refer to face masks made of cloth or any type of fabric. It was originally popularized by celebrities as a style and a trend amongst young people in particular. This type of mask is also an option during this outbreak as it is easy to use, comes in a variety of patterns and is easy to wash. 
  • Surgical masks are used by medical practitioners especially when performing surgeries and are intended to protect a person from dangerous fluids and large drops. However it is less effective in filtering small air particles.
  • The N95 mask has its name because it has the potential to filter up to 95% of the particles and this type of mask is used by patients who have been confirmed positive for COVID-19

It is undeniable that the cloth or fabric face masks are less effective than the other face masks mentioned above in preventing this virus infection. However, the Ministry of Health Malaysia (MOH) Director General Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said his ministry would not prevent the public from wearing homemade masks. However, medical practitioners handling COVID-19 cases should wear special designated masks.

It should be acknowledged that fabric face masks have a high moisture content, are exposed to high pollution risk, can be penetrated by small particles and eventually become the medium for germs propagation. Therefore, detailed handling needs to be done if one wants to continue wearing this type of face mask.

On the positive side, fabric face masks can provide protection against air pollution especially against large air particles. It also protects a person from exposure to sunlight and unpleasant environmental odors. However, the most important precautions to take are social distancing, hand washing and staying at home as much as possible. If you have to go out and wear a face mask fabric, please practice the following steps:

  1. Use no more than 3 hours
  2. Make sure you wash the face mask clean and dry it
  3. Do not simply place the face mask anywhere

In conclusion, there are no mandatory restrictions if one wants to wear a cloth face mask as long as they are not handling COVID-19 patients or having close contact with them. However, always practice utmost hygiene to keep the face mask clean.

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